When I Grow Up

photo 1I want to be like Cleo Kocol or Neil Diamond. Cleo’s recent picture (above) shows her joie de vivre. She gave a presentation, which she does a variety of regularly, about Fanny and Robert Louis Stevenson. Cleo’s 88 and I can barely keep up with her. Her novel, The Good Foreigner, was named one of the best books of 2014 by Amazon. I must say I agree with them, I love that book. Cleo always has a project or event she’s engaged with.

Neil Diamond: I still swoon listening to ‘Play Me,’ and sigh when I hear ‘Morningside.’ Neil’s music changed the world, or perhaps more accurately, how we moved through it, for millions of people. He’s 74 and off on a world tour. Mercy, I think I’m all that when I make it to Seattle and back, which is an hour away.

Finding our way in the world is about choices. Another one of those concepts which I understood the words yet the real meaning only settled truly into me within the last few years as I started to connect what I had done ten, and twenty, okay thirty years previously with the circumstances I currently had. The Good Foreigner also showed me the consequences of choices, so many irrevocable. Most of mine have been irrevocable, too. I sure did not think about that at the time I made them.

I want to move through the world with energy and grace. Hope and optimism. Kindness and compassion, and releasing the blame. Rejoicing in the gifts of age, and accepting of it’s limitations.

As Neil sang in 1969, “And the seed, let it be filled with tomorrow.”


Fear is a Thief

Fear is a Thief
Photo Beijing 2009 By Mary Dessein

Fear is a thief.

I remember reading that on a tee shirt as a young adult, thinking it was rather clever. Yet, I had no idea the power of that statement. And it’s connection to change. Change: cleaning out the closet of the clothes I haven’t worn in five years to a new haircut to ending an unhealthy relationship. Yeah, change.

What’s all the fuss people make about not liking change? That speaks to our brittleness: we are afraid we’ll break if we change. Break our comfort zone, break our habits, break our closed minds. The egg is not much good inside the shell either.

Fear crowds to the front of the line and says, “Here, I’ll make that decision for you.”

Fear and caution are two different things: staying off the railroad tracks when we hear the train whistle, looking both ways before we cross the street, calling 911 when we see flames next door are appropriate caution responses. When fear tries to boss us around, it wants us to live small, to be less than we can be.

After 16+ years, ‘Global Griot: stories & music from around the world,’ the radio show I have co-hosted and loved, ran its course. A new show has surfaced: The Writery with Mary Dessein. What? Change! Why?

My mentor and friend, Marcia Glendenning, used to tell me, “You’re either growing or you’re rotting, there is no staying the same.” Change is moving me forward when I had become comfortable. Change is teaching me new skills when I knew how to do what I’d always done. Change is keeping me resilient when I was getting rigid around the edges.

The Writery with Mary Dessein will be available on in the listings of the SoundCloud, right under the banner photo, hopefully around the end of April.

Thanks to Jon, The Writery has a Facebook page.
Check us out – so many stories, so little time!

Langley March 27th

A ferry ride home at dusk from Langley this coming Friday will cap my week. Dusk has mystical qualities for me: pale long shadows, birds tweeting, chirping and cawing as they flock to their nests, sunlight slanting across lawns and up the sides of neighborhood houses, the soft light that layers the world in gentleness. Add being on a ferry with the engine vibrating everyone on the boat as it churns through the water with seagulls gliding overhead and my world is perfect!

On March 27, I am privileged to be invited over to the storytelling event Jill Johnson ( produces every month at The Commons Bookstore in Langley. Jill has mystical qualities of her own: writer, storyteller, actor, teacher, mentor, researcher, and that is only what I know about. Other performers that night will be Peter Lawlor and Heather Ogilvy.

Live performances are rewarding experiences for me in the personal interaction with the audience. I enjoy the eye contact, who’s into it and who’s nodding off, the sparkle and laugh when someone gets it, and the comments or questions people ask afterwards.

Join us for a fun evening.

Song and Silence

     Song and Silence.

     The Star Spangled Banner. The first time I was privileged to sing it to open an Aquasox home game in Everett was a balmy, early summer evening a couple three years back. One of those evenings where the daylight is long and luxurious and being outdoors in it at a baseball game brings out the camaraderie in people. People who’d look right past you while walking on the street, actually greet you as they climb the stairs in the stands, the metal slats rattling as they ascend.

As game time grew closer, kids darted back and forth, smells of profoundly buttered popcorn and sausage pizza swirled between the pillars under the stands, loudspeakers vibrated out sponsor trivia, laughter and jovial voices overlapped each other, weaving a net of anticipation over us all. Yup, it was all there.

Game time was nearing. A cheerful young man, early-twenties, walked me out onto the field and showed me where to stand. He seemed completely at ease marching around in front of hundreds of people.

“Here, I think it’s on.”

I reached out and took the cordless microphone. “That’d be good.”

He grinned like that was the cleverest thing he’d heard all week.

As I stood there gripping the mic in my right hand, trying to hold the starting note in my head, I heard the stands creaking, clusters of voices rolling over one another, balls punching into mitts, horns honking, traffic out on the street, joyous yelps of children, food vendors hawking ice cream bars, and the announcer enjoining people to get season tickets. Then he paused.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please stand for our national anthem.”

A wind of scuffling and stomping whooshed over the stadium as people rose; hundreds of programs, sandwich wrappers, and candy bags shuffled as everyone stood.

Then silence. Complete silence, as if some giant hand had pulled a blanket up over us and turned out the light. The baseball teams each lined up in front of their dug outs, hands folded behind their backs. The crowd in the stands all gazed up at the flag. The loudspeakers were silent.

Whatever people’s thoughts or politics were, whatever they had been doing two minutes before, whatever they wanted to do later that night, there was quiet throughout the ball park. Over two thousand people together for those few moments. It was a quiet filled with a sense of community and respect. The stillness seemed to surround and enclose all of us. I was mesmerized by the beauty of that silence and the wholeness I felt in those moments.

Then I remembered, “Mary, they’re all waiting. For you. Now would be good.”

I sang. As I reached the last word, the cheers exploded like a bouquet of fireworks, radiant and expectant. I floated on the exuberance of those two minutes as I returned the microphone to the young man and walked off the field.

Yet, what I remember most is that feeling of being with everyone in that stadium for those few moments of shared, intentional quiet. That brief span of silence as we all held our breaths, and our hearts, together.

Only A Teaspoon

I have been trying to save the world for decades. Not only by marching in a demonstration here and there and voting in every election, but after forays into being a secretary, a paper mill worker, and an optician, I found myself working in social services, trying to teach people how to make a better life for themselves. I wanted to help people. Thank goodness for my patient yet insistent supervisor, she got me to see that I could not fix things for people, nor could I give them my solutions to their problems. After that, I was a better helper. I became a good counselor when I deeply understood that getting into social work in order to help people is a bad idea. If you want to help people, find a place to volunteer, there are scads of great ones, your generosity will be welcomed. In order to get into social work or counseling, you need to be fascinated with human behavior, be aware of where you are judgmental (because we each have those places), and be able wade through human misery and loss without drowning. This helped clarify my job into a career. And my heart into compassion, not fixing.

Yet, as the years passed, there were weekends when I came home and wondered why I was doing this work: people relapsed, went to back to jail, lost custody of their children, harmed other people, and they died. I knew on some level I needed to do this work as I had grown up with my family’s credo of service to others, yet it seemed pointless, like bailing a sinking ship with a teaspoon. Then I heard about the boy who came upon a beach covered with hundreds of starfish after the tide had gone out. He began tossing them out into the ocean. A jogger came along, and stopped long enough to say, “Kid, you’re wasting your time. It won’t make any difference, ‘cause you can’t possibly save them all.” The boy reached down, picked up another starfish, and skipped it out into the water. “Maybe, but I made a difference to that one.”

That story clinked into place inside me and I felt renewed. After a while, like a decade or so, that renewal also began to wane. So much to get done with my little teaspoon, management mandates of ‘do more with less,’ and headlines of senseless violence all wore on me.

Last Wednesday, I watched Joan Baez walk out on stage. Calmly, unself-consciously, she smiled, nodded to the audience and picked up her guitar. She knows she’s Joan Baez yet is so grounded and clear about who she is, and isn’t. She sang about hope, life, love, freedom, prison, kindness, beauty, oppression, commitment, and joining together. She told a story about a peaceful resistance in Ecuador. Even though the dictator was still in office when she left, the people and she had sung together with peace and hope.

She reminded me that we each do what we can do. We do it with dignity and respect and grace. And if we’re lucky, we do it with some style.